Big AL – Wyoming Mule Deer Hunt
by Kyle Paxman
“Heroes come and go but legends never die.”-Babe Ruth in The Sandlot
In May of 2016 I lost my hero, my father. The life he lived and the man he was truly are legendary and I miss him every day. I didn’t get my passion for the hunt from my dad. In fact, he was famous for yelling “Doe” and I even caught him several times not carrying a single bullet as he walked me through the woods when I was young. He used to tease that my rifle would make for a cold bed partner but with all that being said, he was the first to tell me how proud he was of me and start calling neighbors when I brought home something special.
I ended up with another Wyoming high country tag for this year and was super excited to get back to my favorite basins. We made a few scouting trips and this year was looking as good as ever. Only problem was that our number one buck had gained a lot of popularity. He grew so popular that he again vanished as he had done for the previous two years. I wasn’t able to bow hunt him, but my fears were confirmed when my good friend Briant reported that he couldn’t turn him up.
This made my decision to go to plan B that much easier. It didn’t hurt to have a book typical and a 34” 6×6 as back up bucks. We were also shown a trail camera picture of a buck with a large drop tine and a big cheater by an acquaintance that also hunted the area. When we asked if that buck was in this spot as well, he fibbed a little and said no. I can’t say that I blame him, but right from the get go I figured this buck was also in the general area.
The hunt this year started on a Thursday so I decided to backpack in by myself on Tuesday night. Briant had other commitments and could only hunt one day as his dad had an elk permit in Utah. He decided to hunt a different area for opening day and then return home to get in his dad’s elk unit. The hike in during the blowing rain/sleet was a bit miserable, but I was excited to hopefully find one of the target bucks and babysit him until the opener. Unfortunately, the day before the hunt was met with a lot of low clouds and quick moving storms. With the poor visibility I was only able to turn up a few smaller bucks and not a lot of deer altogether. I had convinced my good friend Eric to come over from Idaho and help out and by the time he arrived at camp at 10pm it was snowing.
With the snow accumulating it was shaping up to be an epic opening morning. As it began to get light, visibility was limited a bit due to fog and clouds. About 2” of snow and fallen and when we could see, the conditions were ideal. It wasn’t long before the clouds had set in and the morning was a bust. We did run into one member of the acquaintance’s group and chatted with him for a bit. He had killed a buck we had watched for the two years’ prior the season before, so it was good to chat with him. Upon leaving I again asked about the drop tine buck, and he again stated it was in a different drainage.
About 1pm the clouds started to break a little so we decided to start slow hunting some of the out of the way edges in hopes of turning up one of the big boys. We ran into quite a few good deer in the timber but didn’t see any that quite met the mark. At about 5pm we ended up back on the glassing knob and within minutes, Eric said he had a buck on a distant ridge. The buck was frozen like a statue and as we tried to make out what he was, I noticed a giant grey bodied deer walk behind him in the pines. As the buck went through the next opening in the trees, there was the unmistakable drop tine.
We discussed options and I am ashamed to admit, Eric had to reassure me that it was a no-brainer. The ridge they were on was one I had tried to hunt several times in the past and had yet to be successful. It’s tricky because you have to be on the same plane as the deer in order to see them. Luckily they were over the top of a slight hump and we prayed they would stay there as we took off covering the mile and half as quickly as possible. As we reached the saddle, a pair of horses were tied up and I feared someone else had beat us to the ridge. Since we hadn’t heard a shot, there was nothing to do but keep going.
The climb to the spine was steep and slippery. About an hour had passed and I was worried they were long gone. Right as we were about to get into position, where we hoped we could see, we jumped a large group of elk. Again we were lucky, as the herd went in the opposite direction away from the hopeful target. We dropped our packs and slid over the hump, miraculously they hadn’t moved fifty yards in the past hour. The fever set in a bit as I couldn’t get my bipod legs solid in the tall brush. The fever was more apparent as I finally settled in and pulled the trigger, only to have nothing happen! Safety!! In reality this helped settle me down a bit and at the shot, with a distinct thump, the buck disappeared from sight. His running mate stood staring at the ground the entire time we made our way across the draw.
As I pulled his head up, I realized we had severely under-judged him. The trail cam pictures just didn’t do him justice. His head, body, and antlers were gigantic! He was indeed an ancient grey ghost. The pack out was very long and difficult. The harvest moon was in full affect guiding us all the way out. It looked as if you could reach up and touch it. I couldn’t help but think of my father and how I longed to share this story and buck with him. In reality, I know that he was there every step of the way, I miss you Big Al, this one is for you!!
Kyle’s buck ended up being 35” wide and gross scores 197”
Kyle and good friend Eric Freeman who came from Idaho to help on the hunt.